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THE Show 2013, Newport Beach  

post #1 of 22
Thread Starter 
The sports car show was absurd, the food trucks kind of meh, and I didn't even look at the cigars and drinks on display. But overall, this year's iteration of The Home Entertainment Show in Newport Beach was well worth attending.
 
I saw at least five (5) different reel-to-reel demonstration set-ups, along with posters that quote the lavish praise the tape project and other such sources have been getting. There were of course ginormous turntables in heavy rotation. But I'd say by far the majority of the demo rooms were using music servers this year.
 
Biggest disappointment to me were the various YG speakers. I liked those last year better than I expected to, but this year, none of them seemed quite set up right.
 
Biggest surprise, and tied for best sound in the entire show after combing over both hotels top to bottom: the crazy but amazing and simply convincing Voxativ by Schimmel Ampeggio Due - Edition 2013. Not only a beautiful (albeit huge) object, but the sound is incredibly good. I also got to have a nice long chat with the boss, Ines Adler, who was visibly pleased to explain her career and the tech behind these speakers to me in German. Just don't ask for their price!
 
Second biggest surprise: I thought it was just another weird, audiofoolish FX box - but damn, the BSG Technologies qøl Signal Completion Stage really is effective beyond words. I sat there and just laughed, for track after track, with the remote in my hand that would bypass, then engage, then again bypass and engage the magic. I don't have words for it.
 
For portable audio, there were several areas with lots of good stuff (they had set up a Headphonium near the pool but other tables also featured headphones). I got to try the two Astell & Kern DAPs (100 and 120 - the latter adds a second DAC chip and USB playability but almost doubles the price), the ALO Audio International, the Centrance HifiM8, and the new Hifiman 901 top of their line DAP. That Hifiman has a clunky interface, especially compared to the cool iRiver interface that the A&K players got. I bought neither, despite show deals. I listened to a good range of headphones - Audeze was popular at many tables - but in the end came away wishing I had brought my custom IEMs for some testing, too.
 
Tied for best sound, and I have to admit something I had never heard before today: the Abyss headphones (see thread here), fed by a Cavalli Liquid Gold amp from a Mytek DAC out of an iMac. Just amazing. Best of all - this was the Cable Company table, and they were neither selling those nor too busy to chat.
post #2 of 22

I am posting my photos and impressions at this link:

http://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?topic=114914.msg1230072#msg1230072

The headphone gear was kind of scattered all over the place. Some of the neat stuff included below.

 

EOSD3162b

 

 

EOSD3167

 

 

EOSD3169

 

Astell&Kern AK120

 

EOSD3170

 

 

EOSD3171

 

Astell&Kern AK100

 

EOSD3188

 

 

EOSD3317


Edited by Jon L - 6/3/13 at 12:07am
post #3 of 22
EOSD3166
post #4 of 22

JonL, what is the little amp to the right of the big VTL driving the Cardas IEM's ?

post #5 of 22

I spent some time jumping from room to room at the Newport show, and came away with my opinions greatly altered and shattered ideas about where I might spend money in the future.  

 

Obviously being a Head-Fier, I focused my time in the headphone area, but I did swing through the Hilton next door to check out a few high-end vendors, too.  The Vandersteen room left a dent-in-the-audio-universe impression on my brain.  Showcasing their Vandersteen 7 flagship (a cool $50,000 and who needs a Porsche? price point) it was to my ears the greatest room at the show, aided by a $170k turntable and comparably priced Acoustic Research electronics provided by Optimal Enchantment of Santa Monica.  Richard Vandersteen himself was there to exchange a few words about this most impressive setup.  

 

Back to headphones-- My goal today was to at long last spend some time listening to the Audeze LCD-3, LCD-2, and HifiMan HE-500 and HE-600.  I've yet to hear any of these models, and it was worth getting up early on a Sunday to make the trek down to Newport.  

 

The first table I visited was the Astell & Kern display, which showcased ultra high-end portable audio players-- the AK100 and the AK120.  Both very nice devices-- the 120 features dual DAC chips (left and right channel) while the 100 features a single DAC for both channels.  I only spent time with the 120-- teamed up with the LCD-3 (my first listen) and it was an impressive combination.  The player will play FLAC files up to 192k and the interface couldn't be more user friendly.  Add to that-- the memory is expandable via miniSD cards, it's a real winner.  It features an analog pot for volume control-- which I really appreciated.  The downside?  Cost.  Even with the show discount I'd be shelling out $1100 bucks.  Ouch.  I moved on.

 

My next stop was the HifiMan table.  HE-300, HE-400, HE-500 and HE-600 were the on the menu, I sampled the HE-500 and the power hungry HE-600.  HifiMan was promoting their new flagship player-- the HM-901 and all I can say is -- PASS!  The thing is a massive brick, with a scroll wheel which practically needs two hands to rotate.  After the sleek design of the AK120, I couldn't be more disappointed.  

 

As for the headphones, the HE-500 was a real treat.  It has serious game.  Admittedly the noisy showroom isn't the most ideal listening environment for open backed headphones, but I was impressed from the second I put them on.  Comfort and polish are everywhere terrific bass extension, though admittedly they aren't as cozy as my HD800.  They sound more intimate than the HD800, but don't exhibit the HD800's massive soundstage, in tradeoff.  In fact, my impression of the day was how the orthodynamics offered greater speed and intimacy, but weren't as musical as my current HD800 rig.

 

The HE-600 was a fraction better than the HE-500, but I wouldn't put them at $500 dollars better.  The HE-500 would be my choice here.

 

Moving to the Audeze table-- well this was the main event for me. I was anxious to get some serious listening time in on the LCDs.  I've read so much about these cans here, and well, here we go!  Unfortunately the LCD-2 was paired with an iPod and ALO portable amp.  I don't think these got a fair shake, because they didn't come close to the HE-500 in any area.  After playing a few tracks, I was sort of scratching my head wondering what all the fuss was about.  They were-- "nice" but not impressive.  Unfortunately the rep was a kid who was manning the table didn't recognize his 2nd tier headphone was poorly equipped.  

 

A quick word before the LCD-3 on comfort.  I was generally impressed by both the HifiMan and LCD comfort.  I was expecting a rather unpleasant experience in terms of fit, and after 20 minutes or more with each headphone, I felt none of the discomfort which often gets relayed here.  The Audeze headphones were a tad heavy, but nothing that would dissuade me from purchasing, if the sound was there.

 

The LCD-3-- it was paired with a FLAC playing ASUS laptop and a massive tube amp I'd never before seen nor heard of.   Anyway-- the bass was certainly a step up over the LCD-2, but honestly, it was a dense bass, not crisp and lively.  I liked the sound, everything again was more forward, but they didn't have the dimension of my HD800, and after hearing time and again about how the HD800 lacked bass punch, I'm again convinced that description should come with an asterisk-- "unless properly amped".    

 

Let me be clear-- I walked in with a credit card ready to buy.  If they were selling today, I was ready to walk away with a pair of any of these headphones on the spot, if they impressed me.  The LCD-3 couldn't match my existing HD800 setup as they had it set up there, so I passed, without question or hesitation.

 

Either their equipment wasn't up to my rig, or the LCD-3 just isn't for me.  I was prepared for the LCD-3 to take me to a whole new level, instead it wound up being a nice sounding pair of headphones.  High-end, no doubt, but not the revelation I was preparing myself to experience.  

 

What's my rig?  It's been tweaked a lot, but left alone for 6 months now-- Currently a VPI Scout / Clearaudio Virtuoso Wood  > Clearaudio Basic + > Woo Audio WA5LE > HD800.  The digital path is Macbook Pro / Fidelia > Wyred4Sound DAC2 > Woo Audio WA5LE > HD800.  The WA5LE is loaded with aftermarket tubes-- EML 5U4G Mesh, 300B Mesh, and Sylvania 6SN7 drivers.  It took me a long time to find the right drivers for the amp to bring the best bass out of the HD800.  I've swapped out 6 pairs of driver tubes before finding 'the right sound', and probably blown $1000 on tubes in the process. 

 

I wound up leaving with nothing, though I was prepared to buy.  I would have bought the HE-500, but HifiMan was only demoing the headphones, not selling, and I may buy a pair online.  At $700, it was a very impressive pair.  But none of the headphones were a mind-altering "ohmygoshihavetobuythese" experience.  It did reassure me that my current setup has been well equipped.

post #6 of 22

Did anyone get a chance to check out the centrance hifi m8?

post #7 of 22

Thanks for the pics/report Jon L, but would you mind labeling some of them? For example, is that the Astell & Kern AK100 or AK120, and what's the amp in the last pic? Labels on pics are helpful for those searching the site too. A pic by itself isn't all that helpful when there's no text within the scene to help identify something that's unknown to people. wink.gif

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by reeltime View Post
Moving to the Audeze table-- well this was the main event for me. I was anxious to get some serious listening time in on the LCDs.  I've read so much about these cans here, and well, here we go!  Unfortunately the LCD-2 was paired with an iPod and ALO portable amp.  I don't think these got a fair shake, because they didn't come close to the HE-500 in any area.  After playing a few tracks, I was sort of scratching my head wondering what all the fuss was about.  They were-- "nice" but not impressive.  Unfortunately the rep was a kid who was manning the table didn't recognize his 2nd tier headphone was poorly equipped.

 

Are you referring to the iPod/ALO gear as "poorly equipped" for the LCD-2? iPod/ALO combos are actually fairly popular on Head-Fi and I'd think a lot of Head-Fiers would probably dissent with your statement there (though I'm not a dissenter personally, as I don't think highly of ALO's gear). iPods aren't really bad sources btw, as there are a number of DACs (and line-out devices) that take advantage of its digital output.

 

I'm also confused by your reference of a "kid" running the Audeze table. Do you mean that literally as in under age 18, or another type of reference? I've met the Audeze team a few times before and don't know of any "kids" that they employ. It's usually Alex and/or Sankar at the meets & audio shows and neither of them are what I'd call "kids". This is part of the Audeze team btw, if you recognize anyone (Alex is 2nd from left, Sankar on far right):

 

LL.


Edited by Asr - 6/2/13 at 11:51pm
post #8 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by Asr View Post

Are you referring to the iPod/ALO gear as "poorly equipped" for the LCD-2? iPod/ALO combos are actually fairly popular on Head-Fi and I'd think a lot of Head-Fiers would probably dissent with your statement there (though I'm not a dissenter personally, as I don't think highly of ALO's gear). iPods aren't really bad sources btw, as there are a number of DACs (and line-out devices) that take advantage of its digital output.

 

I'm also confused by your reference of a "kid" running the Audeze table. Do you mean that literally as in under age 18, or another type of reference? I've met the Audeze team a few times before and don't know of any "kids" that they employ. It's usually Alex and/or Sankar at the meets & audio shows and neither of them are what I'd call "kids". This is part of the Audeze team btw, if you recognize anyone (Alex is 2nd from left, Sankar on far right):

 

 

 

What I meant by "poorly equipped" is that the other tables were featuring 192k and 96k audio files through gear which cost at least as much as the headphone.  So in comparison to what the other brands were sporting, the LCD-2 wasn't on a level playing field, it didn't show the headphone at its best.  

 

None of the folks in your photo were there.  Just a young-ish guy (late 20s).  He was more on the customer service end of things than someone who was connected to, or knew the ins and outs of high-end audio gear.  Obviously-- not to say a 28 year old is incapable of knowing a lot about Head-Fi, just this particular guy was a bit green-- and obviously didn't recognize his phones weren't equipped as well as the competition in the room.  

post #9 of 22

popcorn.gif

post #10 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by moodyrn View Post

Did anyone get a chance to check out the centrance hifi m8?


Yes, it's a nice little unit. Very flexible and had lot's of power. I was demoing it with LCD-3's and couldn't believe how well it was doing. Tone controls were a nice touch. 3 position gain control. Built in battery which is said to last about 8 hours. To my ears it was very solid state sounding, but hey, that's me being picky.

post #11 of 22
I drove down to Newport armed with my iPad full of lossless files and my AKG 550s. First goal was to hear the HiFi-M8 with my own music and headphones. I own the DACport and really like it with my MBP via USB and the iPad using a battery powered hub and USB adapter but I'd definitely trade up for a battery powered one device system if there's also a sonic bump. There is. Being able to dial in the amp to match your headphones is pretty cool. I switched the bass to the third position and felt air pressure movement in my ears without the bass getting muddy. I think for most of my listening with the 550s I'd use the middle setting for a pleasant bass bump. Very nice unit.

I also liked seeing and listening to the new tube flagship from ALO Audio. It sounded really nice and looks great with all those tubes. Speaking of looking great, the Hilo Lynx was a nice little surprise in the Benchmark room. The faux analogue meters on the LCD screen are fun to watch the needles move while listening to music. Sounds good as well on the demo HD 650s and on my easier to drive 550s.

I also liked the look and sound from the Studio Electric Monitors. Very big sound and nice bass for relatively small speakers (had me looking for a hidden sub in the room). Their Art Deco meets craftsman wood and metal grills alone are worth the $2500 price of admission for a lot of significant others and design fussy listeners like myself.

The two companies I wanted to see were Centrance and Emotiva. Emotiva is a Nashville company making some well regarded home audio and selling direct which keeps the prices down. They've got free standing DACs for $399 and a home theater processor for $499 along with a full line of mono block amps and some new tube stuff. After walking in and out of demos all day I have to say that Emotiva's room sounded as good as rooms playing gear that costs 10x as much. I'm now intrigued by the XPR-5 five channel monster of an amp for $1999. Now I just need to convince my wife that an upgrade is required.

I'm not sure why someone complained about the food trucks, they were all top notch and a nice addition. It's also great having live music at the poolside bar with a cool Bloody Mary in hand. Cars were more of an after thought as they should've at an audio show. I did leave the show wondering what the correlation is between high end audio and Hawaiian shirts though.
post #12 of 22
Thank you both for your impressions.
post #13 of 22

I'm totally pumped you guys came out, as the highlight for me was getting to know new friends through Head-Fi!

And I've been doing this a long time.

 

This is a special community, and I'm pumped about helping to do more in ANY way that I can!

 

Some impressions:

 

ALO Studio Six:

 

 

SO pumped!!!!  It's presenting me with wholly new sonic/musical experiences

 - and I'm still running on adrenaline from THE Show - BUT:

 

W/ the following system:

 

*MacBook Pro running Amarra (l8st)

*CEntrance DACmini PX as DAC w/ Bel Canto 192k USB-to-SPDIF converter

(so I can get up to 192k from the MacBook)

 *ALO Studio Six

*Audeze LCD3's

 

I'm hearing music with as much emotion, velocity, air, finesse, slam, resolution, and SOUL as I've heard listening to my buddies 250K

two-channel high end in-room system (and that system kicks so much ***** it's a visual experience).

 

LIGHTS OUT. and I just bought an E.A.R HP4!

 

This is a crowning achievement for Ken and his team - - review coming 

 

Cardas EM 5813 Ear Speakers:

 

I hated in-ear monitors before Jerry Harvey asked me to try the original JH-13 Pros (we worked together when I was at Atlantic Records

and Jerry's one of the most stand up people I know).  I reviewed those for PFO and nothing else has wow'd me (not even the Freqphase

JH Audio upgrade) like these in an in-ear monitor...

 

There's so much air when I'm listening.  I've never heard that much air in any universal-fit IEM before!

 

also review to come!

 

had a BLAST

AppleMark

post #14 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by mbritt View Post

I did leave the show wondering what the correlation is between high end audio and Hawaiian shirts though.

 

Yea! My wife and I wondered about this as well :)

post #15 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by antikus View Post

 

Yea! My wife and I wondered about this as well :)

Imagine that I've been wondering the same thing since I got into high end audio as a teenager in the 90's!

My first CES (96) I wondered - did high end start in Hawai'i'????

 

But, I finally got to experience personal audio at its very best (portable) in Hawaii last year!!

I took my ALO RxMK3-B and Audeze (plus HRT microStreamer for my MacBook) - and so

I thought I should wear a Hawaiian shirt to commemorate that!  LOL - but then I remembered:

 

I'm not that crazy

 

Tyll can rock the Hawaiian shirt better than anybody though, and I think he started that tradition?

It just looks natural on Tyll.  Some guys you could tell were wearing them to "fit in."

 

Now, fit into what?  I dunno...

 

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